Suicide Drones Shot Down Over Baghdad Airport On Anniversary Of Soleimani Killing

The attempt to hit the U.S. military compound on the symbolic date was rebuffed by Centurion point defense gun systems.

byThomas Newdick|
Afghanistan photo


A pair of armed drones have been shot down today by the U.S. military during an attempted attack on Baghdad’s international airport. The unmanned aerial vehicles, described by officials as “suicide drones,” were destroyed by a Centurion Counter-Rocket, Artillery, and Mortar, or C-RAM, located within the airport perimeter. You can read more about this air-defense system, which is equipped with the famous 20mm Vulcan Gatling-style cannon, here.

Officials from the Iraqi security forces and the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS in the country confirmed the incident, which reportedly occurred around 4:30 am local time. Significantly, it came on the second anniversary of the U.S. assassination of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, the division of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) responsible for militant and terrorist activities outside the country. That same drone strike, which also occurred two years ago near Baghdad Airport, additionally killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces militia operating in Iraq.

Footage of the Centurion C-RAM in action during earlier trials:

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So far there have been no reports of any significant damage or any injuries resulting from the incident, which involved the Centurion C-RAM located at the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center, although the coalition has provided imagery showing the wreckage of the fixed-wing drones used.

“This was a dangerous attack on a civilian airport,” an unnamed coalition official told the Associated Press. Meanwhile, an Iraqi security official said the attack was an attempt to hit the compound at the airport used by U.S. advisors. The drones were reportedly downed as they approached the military facility.

As to the origin of the attack, officials said the wreckage of the drones reveals the slogan “Soleimani’s revenge” on the wings of one, while the other carries the words “Revenge operations for our leaders.” These messages are also visible in photos of the wreckage of the drones that have been released.

While no group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack, these slogans appear to point unambiguously to the work of one of the Iran-backed militias operating in Iraq.

A security official inspects the wreckage of a drone at Baghdad Airport, Iraq, today., International Coalition via AP

Only days after the 2020 U.S. drone strike, Iran retaliated with a ballistic missile attack launched against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. While no U.S. troops were killed in the raid, more than 100 were treated for traumatic brain injury.

Ever since, there has been further talk of revenge, even going as far as an explicit threat made by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei against then-U.S. President Donald Trump. While there were fears last year of a potential attack of some kind to mark the first anniversary of the death of Soleimani and al-Muhandis, this never materialized. Still, the U.S. military did beef up its presence in the Persian Gulf as a result, with overflights by B-52 bombers and the deployment of one of its four Ohio class guided-missile submarines, or SSGNs, through the highly strategic and often tense Strait of Hormuz.

Moreover, the Iran-backed forces and militant Shiite factions in Iraq have made repeated calls for U.S. troops to leave that country and have stipulated this is a prerequisite for ceasing their attacks. Although the formal combat mission against ISIS in Iraq has now ended, there remain around 2,500 U.S. troops in Iraq in a mainly advisory capacity.

As well as the attempted drone strike, Baghdad has seen hundreds of supporters of Iran-backed militia groups gather to mark the anniversary, chant anti-American slogans, and conduct a candlelight vigil.

Outside of Iraq, the anniversary of the 2020 drone strike was also marked by the apparent hacking of the website of the Israeli Jerusalem Post newspaper. This replaced the main news page with an illustration recalling a ring worn by Soleimani, as well as an image of the ballistic-missile attack on the mock-up of Israel’s Dimona nuclear facility during war games last month. The paper described the hacking as an apparent threat to the country.

Today has also seen the seizure of an Emirati-flagged vessel in the Red Sea by Houthi insurgents, another group who are backed and supported by Tehran in their campaign against the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. While the coalition said the vessel was carrying medical supplies, the Houthis described it as “a military cargo ship with military equipment.”

We will continue to update this story as more information about today’s incident becomes available.

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